By Ron Halbrook
When the lawless spirit of apostasy begins its work, it knows no stopping place. In the first century, in the shadow of the apostles of Jesus Christ, Paul wrote, “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thess. 2:7). The apostles and other faithful men were relentless in proclaiming and defending the truth, and in exposing and opposing error of every kind. While this was a restraining force on apostasy, still the leaven of digression was continuing to work in spite of those efforts. As the first generations of faithful men passed off the scene, other “faithful men” rose up who were “able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). In spite of all these efforts, the Holy Spirit expressly said that as time went on more and more brethren would succumb to “seducing spirits” and would “depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Those who took the first steps of sin and error were blinded and did not see where it all would lead, but the Holy Spirit forewarned brethren of how the process of apostasy would work. For instance, Paul urged brethren to strictly adhere to and properly teach “the word of truth” because departures were already occurring even in his lifetime.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:15-18).
Notice that departures from the word of truth “will in-crease unto more ungodliness,” and false doctrine will gradually eat deeper into the vitals of spiritual life “as doth a canker” or a cancerous sore. Again Paul urged adherence to “the holy scriptures” because “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13-17).
First, A “Quarantine” Policy Stops Open Debate
History has repeatedly exemplified and confirmed the validity of the inspired warnings against apostasy. Beginning in the 1950s, the Gospel Advocate was “on the march” promoting such unauthorized innovations as the centralized cooperation of churches through sponsoring church programs and through church donations to human institutions, along with church sponsored social and recreational activities. Faithful brethren warned that these steps of digression would open the floodgates to apostate practices of every kind, but those brethren were stigmatized as “antis” and were quarantined as troublemakers. A statement was published on the editorial page with editorial endorsement which said in part that “the writers for the Gospel Advocate might wisely spearhead a movement to `quarantine’ those preachers who today are sowing the seeds of discord among the brotherhood” (“They Commend the Elder Who Wrote,” Gospel Advocate, 9 December 1954, p. 962).
Cecil B. Douthitt responded in the Gospel Guardian by protesting “The Yellow Tag of Quarantine” and by pleading for gospel papers to keep the door open so that both sides of controversial issues could be published and examined (13 Jan. 1955, pp. 545, 557). Brother Douthitt pled with his brethren in the following words,
Quarantine or suppression or an iron curtain is not the solution to our problems as they exist at this time; nor are all these things combined the solution. The only right course is the one pursued by the brethren as recorded in Acts 15. They engaged in an open and honorable discussion of the issue that troubled them. Speeches were made by men on both sides. There was “much questioning,” and this “much questioning” was not done by one side only. No one was suppressed. . . . Why can’t we meet in honorable and orderly discussion, and settle our differences by the truth of God’s word, as our brethren did in Jerusalem nineteen hundred years ago? The truth never suffers in honorable discussion…. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah.” (Isa. 1:18.)
We have now lived to see the fruit of this policy forbidding both sides of controversial issues to be heard.
Now, “Anxiety for the Church”
The December 1993 Gospel Advocate was dedicated to the theme of “Anxiety for the Church.” A sad announcement was inserted reporting the death of Guy N. Woods who died in his sleep on 8 December in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 85, and was buried in his hometown of Holladay on the 11th (2). There is sad irony in this announcement in connection with the theme of “Anxiety for the Church.” Brother Woods was one of the most prolific writers in the Gospel Advocate who defended the innovations of the 1950s. He served as the Advocate’s editor during 1981-85 but was reduced to the position of query editor after he spoke out too plainly against “The Joplin Unity Meeting” between institutional and Christian Church preachers (G.A., 4 October 1984, 579-81). Although brother Woods helped to defend the early innovations, he retained a basically conservative outlook in many ways. His demotion from the editor’s chair was a symptom of the continuing drift of liberalism and a portent of things to come.
Error has continued to wax worse and worse as the larger churches and the most popular programs and institutions have become more and more liberal minded. For several years brethren in the liberal-institutional movement who maintain some traditional principles of Bible authority have been openly acknowledging that men of a much more liberal mindset are multiplying among them. The December 1993 Gospel Advocate sounds an alarm of anxiety in view of the spirit of apostasy waxing worse and worse. Willard Collins, president emeritus of David Lipscomb University, says that the problems of “anti-institutionalism” and “anti-cooperation” are past but that the remaining churches and brethren are dividing along lines which he described as “progressive, main-liners and conservatives.” What he did not say is that the more conservative element is growing smaller while the progressives are encroaching more and more upon the main-liners. Collins sees steps being taken “in the wrong direction” in an effort to attract the so-called “baby boomers” (born 1946-65) who want little doctrinal teaching, a larger role for women in the public services, and “up-beat, rock-and-roll music in worship.” He says a number of congregations “are becoming polarized” over such matters (“My Concern for the Congregations,” 11-12).
Norman Gipson (an instructor at the Sunset School of Preaching, Sunset Church of Christ, Lubbock, Texas) says that “in many congregations today” the view prevails that “if it is not specifically forbidden in Scripture, it is all right.”
We are told that the Scripture does not forbid the use of special groups in the services to do our worshipping for us. Therefore, we may rightly adopt such a practice. Not long since, a sister stood in a local congregation and sang a solo with a spotlight shining on her. There was an immediate outcry, but that will be only the beginning. When one young man from a well-known choral group was asked why they used boops and bops and oohs and ahs in their songs, he merely said, “That’s vocal.” Yes but is it worship?
A few hours before I sat down to write these words, a brother called from another state. Just four days ago their preacher arose and said, “Our worship will be conducted a little differently tonight.” A group of ladies then joined him on the platform; he and they together led some songs. Then the preacher sat down, and the ladies conducted the rest of the song service (“Dangers of Repeating Ancient Errors,” 15-16).
It is sad that brother Gipson does not see that the liberal and institutional practices which he espouses and which the Sunset church embraces are not authorized in Scripture. Rather, they are dependent upon the fallacious rule that “if it is not specifically forbidden in Scripture, it is all right.”
E. Claude Gardner, president emeritus of Freed-Hardeman University, complains that “`church changers’ are pushing false doctrine to change to women preachers, use of instruments and other doctrinal error,” and are saying in effect to any who object, “It is time for you to go.” Gardner sees an impending division because he insists of the “church changers,” “It is time for them to go.” Gardner continues,
Time was when preachers and others espoused a liberal theology or chose to ogle denominationalism, they had the honesty to leave the church and become affiliated where they would be comfortable. But now the new breed has determined to stay, and they have set on a course of restructuring the church. In a few short years, some of our grandchildren will be attending a religious body foreign to what is found in the New Testament.
The pro-change-anti-traditionalist wing is leading many into false ways. Just look at history and discern the signs of the times, and this will cause you to see that the majority in due time will take the popular and pleasing course.
It takes many years, even decades, before a division is full blown. It took 40 or 50 years for the cleavage with the Christian Church to become fully realized. For some 30 years, I have seen liberal trends develop faster and faster, and today, liberalism has now come with an avalanche.
Among us are those who teach instrumental music in worship is not sinful; women should be able to preach and teach over men; faith only; grace only; baptism is not essential; the Lord’s Supper can be eaten on any day; the four gospels are more important than Acts to Revelation; parts of the Bible are not inspired of the Holy Spirit; obedience is legalism; preach Christ not the church; preach the Cross and not doctrine; preach the Living Word instead of the written word; advocate open fellow-ship with denominations; the Holy Spirit leads mysteriously apart from the Scripture; speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts are possible today; everything we do is worship; the service at the worship period should be charged with deep emotionalism as if one expects a so-called “Pentecost blessing” (“Save Our Children and the Church From Destruction,” 17-19).
While Gardner correctly notes that “biblical authority is being undercut” through “speeches, lectures, and writings,” by what he calls the “church changers,” he does not see that biblical authority was first undercut by the unscriptural innovations of the 1950s.
“Tidal Waves” of Apostasy
Leroy Brownlow, who helped to pioneer and promote the innovations of the 1950s, now says, “On the eve of the 21st century some are urging that we should pull up the landmarks and move forward into a modern world with a religion less restrictive and more accommodating.” After reviewing demands for change both in Bible history and in modem church history, Brownlow says, “Today, the cry for change is getting louder and louder, bolder and bolder.
We are being told, even in high places, that we must realize the powerful dynamics of change.” He explains this “revolting and heartbreaking” philosophy of change and how it is being promoted:
Nevertheless, it is being said, “For the church of Christ to grow it must change.” As expected to condition minds for changes it is said, “We do not mean a change in the Gospel.” But this is highly suspect, especially when some change criers do not tell us the changes they wish to make. And beyond suspect, the statement actually contradicts some more brash preachers and professors among us who openly advocate these specific changes: no patterns in the Bible to follow; no rigid forms of Christianity; denunciation of doctrine; salvation by grace alone; rejection of baptism for the remission of sins; instrumental music in the worship; women preachers; charismatic characteristics; renouncement of congregational autonomy; cessation of trying to convert people in various denominations and the acceptance of them as fellow Christians; abandonment of the Restoration; acceptance of the notion that we are just another denomination among all the denominations which they think constitute the one church; appointment of denominationalists to lead and mold the thinking of our youth; and a movement to remake the church of Christ into a community church of all faiths (“And They Wanted Change,” 20-22).
Brownlow also says, “Now we are awash in tidal waves of Hymenaeusism and Alexanderism (1 Tim. 1:20). The old Ship of Zion is tossing.”
It is indeed heartbreaking to see error waxing worse and worse in the camp of institutional liberalism. Sound brethren would do well to learn from these continuing developments because if we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them! Let us remember that when we take even one step beyond the limits of Bible authority, we endanger and undercut the whole concept of biblical authority. Some of the practices which are now engulfing liberal churches will sooner or later be knocking at the door of sound churches. We too soon forget the lessons of the past even when we have once learned them, and a new generation may rise up which is not well grounded in the truth.
Some of our own brethren will not see the importance of preaching and warning about such matters, because they have graduated from the “negative emphasis” of the past to the more popular “power of positive thinking.” Preaching which contrasts Bible truth with apostate movements is needed both to call erring brethren out of liberalism and to encourage sound brethren to uphold the truth while resisting the encroachments of error. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past, let us follow the example of Paul who fully preached “the gospel of the grace of God” and of “the kingdom of God:”
Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified (Acts 20:24-32).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 5, p. 8-10
March 3, 1994